How to format a hard drive

There are many reasons why you might want to format a hard drive, such as to install Windows fresh, to get rid of a virus or malware or simply because you're giving your PC to someone else or throwing it away. Here, we'll explain all you need to know to erase all the data from disk and get the job done properly. The process can be different depending on whether it's your only hard drive and whether you have a spare PC or not. You can't, for example, format the hard drive on which Windows is running. In order to do this you will need to boot your PC from a Windows installation disc, a USB flash drive or another bootable disc.


What does it mean to format a disk?


Formatting is the process of deleting all the data on the hard drive, but beware of 'Quick Format' which leaves all your data in place and makes the drive appear to be empty. A quick format is ok if you have a brand new hard drive, or you want to reinstall Windows, but not if you're disposing of the disk or giving it to someone else.Separately we explain how to delete a selection of files permanently for free with Eraser 6. A word of warning: make sure you have successfully backed up any photos, videos, music and other documents from your drive before you format it. Although deleted files can be recovered in some situations, prevention is always better than cure.


How to format hard drive partitions


It's important to understand about partitions before you start. A hard drive can be divided up into smaller sections, called partitions. It's possible to format one partition while leaving the others untouched.That's useful in certain situations, but if you want to format the entire hard drive and use the entire capacity in one block, you'll also need to delete the partition information.


Can I format a hard drive from the BIOS?


Many people ask how to format a hard disk from BIOS. The short answer is no. 


If you need to format a disk and you can't do it from within Windows, you can create a bootable CD, DVD or USB flash drive and run a free third-party formatting tool. One option is Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN), which is free for personal use. This program will totally erase and format your hard disk, allowing for a clean install of a new OS, but the process cannot be undone. 


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